fireworks night cafe

It’s STILL Independence Day in Eight States!

Independence Day is every day for families in eight states, including four — Virginia, Connecticut, Illinois, and Montana — that passed a “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bill this year.

“I’m really excited,” said Evelyn Hackel, a naval architect and mother of Elsa Hackel, age 12. She should be!

When Elsa was 9 and walking home from the library in Falls Church, VA, the police knocked on her front door before she even got her coat off. They told her parents she was too young to be outside, alone.

“There were four cops,” Evelyn recalls – more than had shown up when her friend was assaulted.

Eveyln and Elsa both testified in the Virginia legislature this winter in support of the Reasonable Independence bill. It clarifies that kids have the right to some unsupervised time – and parents have the right to give it to them, without getting investigated for neglect. “Neglect” is only when you put your child in serious, obvious danger – not anytime you take your eyes off them.

The bill had bi-partisan sponsorship. In February it passed both Virginia chambers — unanimously. Then it passed in Illinois and Connecticut, also unanimously. In Montana  this spring there was some dissent, but it is the law of the land there now, too.

Fed up with fragility.

Clearly, this is a country fed up with having to treat kids as Ming vases, only inside and guarded. The revolution began in 2018 when Utah passed what was originally called the “Free-Range Parenting” bill. Then in 2021-22, Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado followed Utah’s lead: three red states and a purple.

But this year “it’s been a bit of a blue wave,” says Diane Redleaf, legal consultant to Let Grow, the nonprofit promoting childhood independence that grew out of Free-Range Kids and has been helping to pass these bills.

The law appeals to politicians across the spectrum, “Because we all want what’s best for our kids,” said State Rep. Travis Simms, a Democrat in Connecticut who co-sponsored the bill with State Rep. Tom O’Dea, a Republican. Simms recalled how proud he felt when he started running errands for his mom. “Regardless of whether we were 5 or 20, we all had our part to play.” That’s child development gold.

Common sense is not a crime.

In Illinois, the bill was particularly welcome because a confusing clause in the state law made people believe no one could leave their kids unsupervised until age 14. The law didn’t actually say that — it said that by age 14, kids on their own would automatically NOT be considered neglected. But it was often misinterpreted. And stories like this one – where a suburban Chicago mom was investigated for letting her 8-year-old walk the dog – didn’t help.

The new Illinois law allows “parents to take a commonsense approach to raising their children,” says Nora Collins-Mandeville, Director of Systems Reform Policy at the Illinois ACLU.

The bill passed in part as a social justice measure. It recognizes that when, say, a single mom working two jobs has her kids come home with a latchkey, that’s not neglect – that’s poverty. “Before passage of this bill, many parents had these permissions weaponized against them,” said Virginia Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat who supported the bill as a state senator just before moving on to The U.S. House of Representatives.

Let freedom (and the dinner bell) ring!

Happiest of all, perhaps, are the homeschoolers, whose kids are often out and about, even during “school hours.” “Homeschool families know that some of the best learning happens by doing,” said Will Estrada, Senior Counsel at the Home School Legal Defense Association. “Parents should be free to let their kids grow without fear of an unnecessary child protective services investigation.”

Until now, it has been too easy to dial 911, report an unsupervised child, and throw a decent family into chaos.

But this is a country founded on freedom. That includes the freedom of kids to play outside, run errands, and just be kids. Happy Independence Days, Weeks, Month and Years to them!

At least in eight states.

2 Responses to It’s STILL Independence Day in Eight States!

  1. Ron Andersen July 6, 2023 at 8:52 pm #

    Netflix has a delightful 2 season series called “Old Enough.” Most episodes are 10 to 15 minutes long, the longest being 21 minutes. It has been running in Japan for 20 years. The children are sent to do errands alone at ages ranging from 1 or 2 to 4 years of age. Yes it’s Japan. Yes there is a camera crew following them, but when you watch, the kids mostly are oblivious to the adults filming them at some distance.

    It shows that young kids are capable of a lot of things many adults think them incapable of and they are not their parents!.

  2. Mark Headley July 7, 2023 at 4:54 am #

    Bravo! Yes, in part a social justice measure easing struggles w/ poverty! Hugely impt. IMO. Including too because it seems I only hear of mothers being outrageously targeted for “neglect.”